This story is true, although I have withheld the person’s name, and have put his story into my own words.
It starts with a boy, growing up in a conservative Christian denomination. He absorbs, almost by osmosis, a God who lives “out there” somewhere. “Out there” means, for him, God is not like him, or his friends. God is “other,” different from mere mortals.
But he doesn’t think much about God.
As he grows, he thinks of God looking down from heaven. Heaven is not only “out there,” it’s “up there.” It might be on the clouds, or in the sky. But it wasn’t “here”.
Wherever it is, God is an adult, not a child. Indeed, extremely adult. A divine grandfather, much more powerful and wiser than his own father. God knows everything, and can do anything.
The boy has an inquiring mind. So he asks: “If God can do anything, could God make a rock so big that even He couldn’t lift it?” He was told not to ask silly questions.
He understood that the God “out there” was watching whenever he did anything. Especially anything God would punish him for.
But in the meantime, he seemed able to get away with more and more. So did others, who committed real sins.
He began to doubt his former ideas about a God who handed out rewards and punishments. Who played favourites. A being who caused disasters that people called “acts of God.” Landslides and tsunamis. Plagues and pandemics. And wars. Especially wars. His community were pacifists. They didn’t believe that wars settled anything. But wars kept happening. People kept dying.
He realized that he didn’t like the God he had once taken for granted. And if he didn’t like God, it was not possible for him to “love God with all his heart, his mind, and his strength,” as the Bible had taught him.
He started looking for a God he could love. He began thinking about God “in here,” instead of “out there.” He started seeing God in everything. In other people. In nature. Even in himself. He felt embedded in the presence of a loving God.
Increasingly, he felt the presence of God in, and around, and through every part of life.
It felt like falling in love.
A phrase invented by a theologian, calling God our “ground of being,” resonated with him.
He banished the God “out there” from his thinking.
Then he got cancer. A rare kind of cancer, his doctor told him. A hard lump, growing fast. The prognosis was not good. He needed surgery. Now, not someday.
He knew he was looking death right in the eye.
He remembered an old saying: “There are no atheists in foxholes.” When bullets zip past your head, you don’t turn to philosophical theories for comfort.
And he realized that no matter how sincere his convictions about a God who was inside, outside, and everywhere, a God embodied in the world and in him, at that moment what he wanted was a God who could do something about his cancer. A God who was more than an abstract understanding.
He realized he still yearned for that God “out there.”
Copyright © 2020 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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Writing about gardens in the northern hemisphere always exposes some of the things we (in the north) take for granted.
Nola Warrick wrote from Australia: “I knew very few of the plants you named. We’ve grown rhubarb and we can buy raspberries. But in Brisbane gardens (well the ones around the older houses) everyone has a mango tree -- mum had a big yard and had four mangoes. We usually had paw paws coming up in our mulch heaps, so there would be pawpaw trees. And then there was a soggy spot in our yard so bananas were planted there. Of course, there’s always the problem of getting the ripening fruit before the possums or the flying foxes. Down the back we had a huge avocado tree, and most gardens have a lemon, an orange or a mandarin tree, and now we often grow limes. The only deciduous trees in our gardens (or in the bush) are exotics.”
Bob Rollwagen suggested, “I think we live in a similar environment. Reading your garden tour, we have 12 bed-bound yucca, in bloom now and about six or seven feet tall. There are blackberry bushes in flower, a multi-coloured peony garden past its prime, numerous bulbs for three seasons, day lilies, King Billy in all the corners, hollyhocks six feet tall full of blooms right now, competing with the yucca and Four O’clock coming into bloom shortly.”
Bob describes his garden as “Butchart Gardens [in Victoria: JT] without the miles of trails and the surrounding elevations, although the Lake Huron escarpment is immediately behind us.
“The back-story involves many neighbours, friends, family, through the stages of their lives.”
Tom Watson commented on those back-stories: “My sense is that a large part of what we do in these lives of ours is create stories. Some are big, some are small, but all are part of who we were. The back-story is what gives the yucca plants meaning in your life.
“When I was in Brantford, I had a funeral for a man. He had never married; his only relatives were two nieces. When I went to see them they gave me a small book he had written for them. He had been a druggist. He wrote about the things he had experienced during his lifetime: two world wars, the great flu epidemic of 1918, etc. But more than chronicling the experiences, he wrote what he had learned from them. It was what he had learned that was more important than what he had lived through.
“Isn't that the same with your yucca plants? It isn't the plants themselves that are important; it's how you acquired them in the first place, the story they hold for you?”
Dick Best has lived: in California for 45 years. “But your piece took me back to my childhood in a small Massachusetts town,” he wrote. “Our street was barely wide enough for two vehicles to pass each other, no place to park except in (usually) dirt driveways, but, for some reason, the houses on our side of the street were set back 100' from the street. Maybe to provide for possible later expansion. We had a garden in back, which provided enough canned goods to get our family through the winter. Peonies down one side, pear trees up the other, a grape arbor, at least two flower gardens, a maple tree my dad planted in the front yard. What I remember, however, was the yucca plant down near the street. Don't know how it got there. Don't know how many times my dad dug down several feet (in hard, rocky soil) trying to eradicate it. But it persisted. It wasn't there the last time I was, in 2015, so someone got rid of it somehow, but I'm sure it was no easy task.”
Sandy Warren wrote, “Thank you for a new word -- provenance -- and for these stories to illustrate it. Plants and trees have always been one of the anchoring facets of my life. Part of the sadness for each move I've had to make has been for the plants that must be left behind. Reading the stories of the provenance of some of the plants in your yard has called up a wealth of associations of my own and given me much pleasure. Though I am unlikely to see the yuccas in your yard, I will remember the story of them when I see others.”
Like Sandy, Diana Cabott feels a loss “each time I chose to move house or had to move, I left all my garden memories behind me. My mother passed away about 25 years ago, a gardener. Her brother worked for the City of Vancouver landscaping department. My two girls are gardeners and our family has always enjoyed sharing bulbs, seeds, or plants with friends and neighbors -- a connection that never gets forgotten, like the rhubarb from Aunty Chris...”
Sometimes, when you’re in a plane, high above the earth, you can see the light of dawn from the east spreading across the darkened lands below. That’s what Psalm 105 made me think of.
1 The still earth stirs to the touch of God;
Give thanks, give thanks to God.
Light spills across the resting lands.
2 Waken the sleepers to share in the wonder;
Sing praises to the creator, all you people.
3 The glory of dawn rises over the horizon;
Our hearts rise in response.
4 Look, see how the wonders extend to the edge of the world;
Everywhere, the glory of God bursts into being.
5 Years may come, years may go,
But each new day is a miracle.
God watches over the world, from east to west,
And banishes fears of darkness.
6 Yet this same God chooses to watch over us;
7 This is the wonder of our God.
The creator of the universe --
the ruler of earth, the life of the lands --
8 this God cares about us,
and about our children, and our children's children.
9 This God cared about our ancestors,
and our ancestors' ancestors.
Long before we existed.
before we were aware of existence itself,
10 God made promises to us.
11 God said, "I will give you this land.
Pass it on in good shape to your children,
And to your children's children."
You can find paraphrases of most of the psalms in the Revised Common Lectionary in my book Everyday Psalmsavailable from Wood Lake Publishing, email@example.com.
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To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. Some spam filters have blocked my posts because they’re suspicious of some of the web links.
Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca He’s also relatively inexpensive!
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also has lots of beautiful photos. Especially of birds.
Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom (NB that’s “watso” not “watson”)
ALVA WOOD’S ARCHIVE
I have acquired (don’t ask how) the complete archive of the late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures. I’ve put them on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. You’re welcome to browse. No charge. (Although maybe if I charged a fee, more people would find the archive worth visiting.)